Travelogue to follow, but for now, let’s talk about Japan. If asked to choose three words to sum up the country, I would select: peaceful, verdant, efficient. Each feels representative of the areas I visited, people I met and the lessons I learned. Mostly because, in Japan, I saw these words work together, in tandem, every day.
But how? Now, by the last estimate, the population of Japan was less than half that of the US (127 million vs. 356 million), so the scale is off. At the same time, Japan’s history reaches way further back, plagued by civil unrest, world wars and foreign occupations. They are an island, forced to import much of what they cannot produce at home. And yet, the Japanese seem to have respect for one another that I’ve just never seen before. They spend time practicing respect throughout their day, they yield to one another, rather than rush by, to ensure the cycle continues. Ego and self-importance get checked at the door. The result is a sense of tranquility that comes from co-existing with one another, rather than continually competing or focusing in on differences.
While in Kyoto, we visited a Zen Buddhist temple and garden, Daisen-in. Founded in 1509, this space is best known for its carefully orchestrated rock garden that surrounds the main building. From birth through nirvana, the garden carries you on life’s journey and illustrates zen philosophy. Inside the temple, we learned about several Zen Buddhist ideas including the concept of ichi-go ichi-e. Literally translated, it’s “one time, one meeting.” On a deeper level, this means that every moment is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and all we have is the present. Heady stuff.
I’m trying to remember this as I shift away from vacation mode and back into reality. As I got scolded by not one - but two - border guards within moments of landing at the airport. As I hear stories of people trying to bully and undermine their peers rather than be supportive and uplifting. Every single time I glance at the news. And so on. I’m not saying that ichi-go ichi-e explains the deference I witnessed in Japan. I’m not even scratching the surface. I’m just suggesting that we could all learn from a country where people carry their garbage home, instead of littering, because there are few public trash cans. Where traffic lights, railings and sidewalks accounts for the disabled. Where people don’t bother to lock their bikes, because no one would steal it anyway.